"Building the gardens brings out people. One day, we had at least 30 residents out here volunteering."

Danell  Cross

Photo courtesy of The Lands We Share project

Danell Cross | Milwaukee, WI

"The city made the decision to knock down houses, then leave our community with vacant lots. Nobody's built a house on it, nobody wants to develop it. We call it a snaggletooth community. We have people driving up just dumping tires and old furniture and TVs on our vacant lots. How are we supposed to stop that?

I got into the work of engagement in my neighborhood, going door-to-door and meeting people and getting to know them. I make sure I let the people in this community know this is not their fault.

We didn't create the problem. We did not create these conditions; they were put in motion from outside of the community. And to fix it, we need that type of support, too. Changing people's minds even about whose problem this is has been a great challenge.

Our former chief of police used to say all the time that crime causes poverty. No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. Poverty causes crime, and they have the data to prove that. But if you say something long enough, people that don't know believe it. So I'm here to say something different and I'm gonna keep saying it to people. I think that my mouth is big enough and luckily, I'm not screaming by myself.

I value the people here and I'm constantly saying, these children matter, they should have a decent place to play. We got connected with these funders, city officials, public officials that were doing work in our community. We really wanted people to stop speaking for us and representing us without knowing who we were. We wanted a seat at the table. We were able to successfully complete the ‘building neighborhood capacity program,’ which brought residents and city partners to the same space to make plans for our neighborhood.

We know if you invest in Metcalfe Park and communities like ours, it will spill over and affect this whole city in a positive way.

Now we’re putting gardens on these vacant lots, we’re bringing positive energy to them. We’ve got an orchard around the corner from the garden. The trees and gardens put a whole different look on our neighborhood than the vacant lot with all the trash in it. Our mission is for all the people to enjoy and participate, not just one demographic.

It’s for kids and old people, young people and families, boys and girls, and men and women.

Building the gardens brings out people. One day, we had at least 30 residents out here volunteering. We want natural play areas for the kids. We want chess tables. We’re going to have a gazebo where our seniors and families can bring deck chairs out and lay back in there while the kids are playing and they can keep eyes on the children.

For the gardens, we want to have food that grows all by itself. We want perennial food so we know it's going to come years and years and years from now. I'll be still eating off of those trees in the orchard, those bushes, and those perennial onions from now on. That's the plan.

Personally, I always want to be barefoot. I want my feet on the ground. I want to be able to feel the energy that I think is in dirt and rocks and grass. I feel that way about trees. I feel that way about flowers. I feel that way about water. I think it's important for people, for human beings, to have green spaces and clear water and beautiful trees—it’s part of being healthy, you know, that you come outside, the sun is shining and you get to see your kids running through grass that's healthy and clean. I think it's important.”

-Danell Cross | Milwaukee, WI

Danell’s story is part of Love Wisconsin's collaboration with The Lands We Share, a project that focuses on the intersection of farming, land, ethnic culture, and history in Wisconsin. Through this collaboration we featured five farmer stories from the project, including Mike Dettman, Cheu Vang, Loretta Metoxen, and David Tovar.